Livestock Management Amendment (Animal Activism) Bill 2021
I rise to speak to the Livestock Management Amendment (Animal Activism) Bill 2021 and I indicate the Greens will not be supporting this bill. My colleague Ellen Sandell detailed in the other place our reasons, but I wish to make some brief comments about this here.
Obviously biosecurity is extremely important and must be taken incredibly seriously, but this bill is not actually about biosecurity; it is about singling out one particular group of activists for special penalties. Progressive change in Australia often comes from years of work from campaigners, who risk their own safety or security, and on occasion break the law to expose some truly immoral and unacceptable behaviour, whether it is communities coming together to protect our coast from gas drilling, residents protesting the destruction and sale of their public homes, volunteers who enter wetlands to rescue injured birds, workers leaking footage from live exports or whistleblowers revealing the truth of puppy farms.
I am really proud to represent a party that supports our activists and has its own roots in protest. They are not the enemy, but this bill tries to paint them as one.
This bill is part of the government’s response to the parliamentary inquiry into the impacts of animal rights activism on Victorian agriculture. This inquiry ended up making some really important recommendations about improving animal welfare in agriculture, like introducing CCTV in abattoirs and incorporating really high animal welfare standards into codes of practice. While the government has indicated support for all the recommendations, this is the first set of recommendations that the government has chosen to fully implement. It is not surprising to see the government default to its preferred law and order approach.
The bill is supposedly responding to the perceived threat of biosecurity breaches from activists who enter farms and agricultural facilities, but the inquiry found that there had been no reported outbreaks of disease caused by animal activists. And while the bill is creating a new offence of breaching a biosecurity management plan, the type of behaviour it is trying to penalise is the unlawful entering of a private farm and agricultural property—in other words, trespass, which is already its own offence. The act of trespass can lead to other associated offences like breaches of privacy or perhaps the illegal use of a listening or surveillance device. There is already potential for hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines for illegal trespass onto a farm, and this bill is just adding a few thousand more for good measure. Our opposition to this bill is not to condone any specific behaviour or activities, but the offences already exist so this bill is unnecessary.
It is hard to see this bill as being about anything more than singling out one particular type of activist group for special penalties. This is a dangerous path to walk down. If with this bill we set a precedent that we can slap extra fines on some activists and protesters just because the government of the day disagrees with them, it is not hard to imagine what kinds of targeted bills we could be debating in the future. The Greens would prefer to see the government abandon these penalties and prioritise implementing the animal welfare recommendations from the inquiry instead, especially as these reforms are much more likely to deter activists from the type of illegal trespass this bill is so worried about, because if our animal rights campaigners can have confidence that all animals are being treated with kindness and care, their motivations for trespassing onto agricultural property vanish.
On that note, we Greens will be supporting the amendments that I understand Mr Meddick will be proposing, as we agree that these offences should be not prioritised and implemented before the animal welfare recommendations from the inquiry are addressed. We will not be supporting The Nationals’ amendments—when these fines are already among the toughest in the country, increasing them further is just twisting the knife.